Ghostkeeper's 'Multidimensional Culture' Finds Healing in Art Rock Exploration

BY Alan RantaPublished May 26, 2022

Ghostkeeper go their own way. The Calgary-based outfit have one foot in the spiritual realm and the other in the physical world. Drawing a line between Mississippi roots, Cascadian psychedelia, African pop and Aboriginal pow wow, they somehow provide the missing link between Robert Johnson and Pavement. They channel the sun-dried storytelling depth of Blitzen Trapper and the boisterous art rock eccentricity of the Turtles into something unique and meaningful. Their fifth album, Multidimensional Culture, ventures farther down similar paths.
Originally hailing from Northern Alberta, singer-guitarist Shane Ghostkeeper is the namesake of the band that centres on him and his talented wife, drummer and singer (and all-around multidisciplinary artist) Sarah Houle-Lowry.

Following a five-year break, Multidimensional Culture is their first album for Victory Pool, and it sounds like they found home again following the dystopian trip-hop concept album that was 2017's Sheer Blouse Buffalo Knocks. Its lyrics are informed as much by their history as their imagination, more like a scrapbook of Kodachrome-tinged memories than a heady concept.

Raised on a diet of classic country, traditional Cree music and '90s indie rock, Ghostkeeper draw on personal history and cultural tragedies alike. They aren't into power chords so much as the unexpected, tapping into the spiritual while addressing the ephemeral. Their eclecticism, demonstrating a Zappa-level commitment to originality, is at once their most perplexing quirk and finest attribute, but while some may find them confounding, they can never be called boring.

With multi-instrumentalist Ryan Bourne and drummer Eric Hamelin returning as their rhythm section, their knack for angular folk rock experimentation remains intact on Multidimensional Culture. Shane proves himself to be quite a character throughout the record: on "Ancestors," he embodies a serious, Paul Simon-esque tone as he speaks to the unearthly impact of our forbears as they resonate through our flesh, while "Rolly" sounds more like Cass McCombs.

Shane adopts a Big Bopper-esque rockabilly crooner style for "Doo Wop" as calls up Sarah to reminisce about their carefree younger days. After he trips out on ceremonial bubbles, she belts out one of the most satisfying hooks they've ever recorded: "Like a pair of dreamers, we were young and so caught up in us / We'd go to bed in the morning and get up in the afternoon."

As lush and soulful as the backing vocals are, most notably when a backing choir smoothly coalesces into a beautiful and well-earned "amen" while Shane mentions praying, "Doo Wop" doesn't sound like traditional doo-wop music so much as soulful, progressive southern rock. It makes one imagine Jade Castrinos-era Edward Sharpe and the Allman Brothers in Muscle Shoals with all the warm bass, lush harmonies and twangy slide guitar going on. It's the best summer sing-along Mungo Jerry never wrote.

"The Trees" is truly religious experience, profound and cathartic. Following a sarcastic questioning of casual racists, Shane assumes the presence of a preacher as he delivers an invitation to find something larger than oneself, to float down the Peace River with open eyes, connect to nature, and know a creator that shines on everything, for everyone. The instrumental begins humbly, and elevates unhurriedly to a crescendo that balances roots-y revivalist twang and freak-folk synthesis so blissfully that it feels as though it washes away your sins.

Sarah shows off a fair amount of range too. "Summer Child" starts off with a dramatic orchestral pop flourish that would make the Beatles proud, before showing a little relaxed influence from "Seven Year Ache" by Rosanne Cash. Elsewhere, the cerebral indie pop of "Ghost on a Rope" has Sarah sounding more like Eleanor Friedberger with angular electric guitar riffs and a punchy beat reminiscent of Television framing her coolly reserved vocals, while the haunting alternative nature of "Grassy Plains" lands on the unknown border between Bauhaus and Sleater-Kinney.
As challenging as they are, there has always been a healing aspect to Ghostkeeper. Rumour has it the name itself is a loose translation of a Cree word that means medicine man, of which many run through Shane's lineage, and that rings true through the band's music. Sometimes, you have to hurt something a little to heal it, to burn away infection or set a broken bone. We can't look to the future unless we face the past and acknowledge the present, and tracks like "This Is How I Know You," a prayer for the untold missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls, do exactly that. Their whole catalog is a monument to unflinching truth and reconciliation moving forward with love, humour and honesty, and Multidimensional Culture is their most beautifully realized offering yet.
(Victory Pool)

Tour Dates

Latest Coverage